Jonathan Lee

Worldly Images

India March 2017 – Nilgiri Mountain Railway

This is an extract from a longer railway trip of mine but as railway journeys go, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway is well worth getting out of bed for.

Friday 3rd March 2017 (A journey on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway to Ooty)

It was definitely a rude awakening at 0430 but I was soon into my clothes, Wallace style, and leaving my keys on the hotel desk as I tiptoed out so as not to wake the staff that were asleep on the floor in reception. The streets were deserted by the Vinayak but the closer I got to the station there was more life and the bakeries opposite the station front were doing a roaring trade at 0445 of a morning.

While I waited on the station for 12671 Chennai Central – Mettupalayam to arrive, drinking coffee, KJM WDM3A 18904 arrived and departed with 12257 Yesvantpur – Kochuveli and ED WDM3D 11318 was attached to the stock to work 22610 0640 Coimbatore – Mangalore Central. When ED WAP4 22715 arrived with 12671 I made sure I didn’t make the same mistake that I had done last time and get into the portion that is split off the train at Coimbatore! And having walked to the opposite end of the train I found ED WAP4 22249 just dropping onto the other end to work the Mettupalayam portion forward to destination. There was plenty of room in the 2AC I was reserved in so I made use of it on the way to Mettupalayam.

At Mettupalayam I was grateful of the cool morning and even more grateful when I checked my PNR for 56136 0710 Mettupalayam – Ooty on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway; it had originally been WL5 in 2S (second reserved) as there’d been no availability in FS1 (first class) but had been confirmed and my allocated seat was coach D1 seat 41. X Class steam loco 37399, which was only built in 2014, was already attached to the stock to work the train to Coonoor and I found X Class 37386 dumped behind the Steam Loco Shed. 37389 was on display in the yard at the back of the railway museum adjacent to the station and that was it.

Most people using 12671 Chennai – Mettupalayam do so to connect into the Nilgiri Mountain Railway yet it wasn’t that busy on the station initially so more people must have arrived by road to do the train. There wasn’t even a queue for the 2nd unreserved initially and it didn’t seem that wedged, even by departure time. The 2S coach I was reserved in was thankfully a compartment coach and moments before departure there were only 5 of the 8 seats occupied in my compartment but two others were thrown in by the TTE; while the guard was giving him grief about the fact we should have departed by that point!

As 37399 got to grips with its train the locals living by the railway waved at the train as it passed by. It must be something seeing only steam trains passing by your back door and knowing nothing else since the line’s creation back in 1908. There had been a trial with twin YDM4’s on the Mettupalayam to Coonoor section, about 5 years ago, in an attempt to run bigger trains so more people could be carried on the line; unfortunately for me, it wasn’t successful and the YDM4’s couldn’t deal with the 1:12.5 gradients the line threw at them. Not surprising really……

Although I’d done the line twice before, it didn’t stop me enjoying this trip up to Coonoor any less and for the first time I was sat on the right-hand side of the train heading up the hill, which offers the best views back down the valley as the train climbs. At Kallar trains stop to allow the loco to be watered, the same then happens at Adderley, which has excellent view over the Nilgiri Hills, Hillgrove, which has facilities and the only open refreshment stall en-route, Runneymede, which has great views over the surrounding Glendale Tea Estate; and finally, the little steam loco makes the final push into Coonoor, arriving 3h20m after leaving Mettupalayam only 27km away by rail!

The very reason for my return to Ooty, after only having been 12 months previous, was to hopefully get YDM4 6706 in; which was out of service and buried in the back of the shed on my previous visit. Someone else had been up to Ooty 4 days before me and confirmed that while 6706 hadn’t been out that day, it had been sat beneath the water tower on shed; which is where the loco for the following afternoon’s trip to Ooty usually sits. 6730 had been buried in the shed and the two locos out working that day had been 6664 & 6724.

Upon arrival into Coonoor I noticed 6724 sat on shed with a coach attached, which was usually the loco for the 1235 Coonoor – Ooty. On this occasion though, once 37399 was removed from the train, 6724 shunted its coach onto the train and sat waiting to depart with 56136. The loco off 56139 0915 Ooty – Coonoor usually works 56136 from Coonoor and this was the first time I’d seen this not happen. As 56139 seemed to be late I had time to quickly scan round the shed and found 6730 dumped in the back of it, as previously reported, and 6706 was stabled in the road by the side of the shed. Inside the shed were X Class 37391, 37397 & 37398 and of course they were soon joined by 37399 off 56136.

While 6706 wasn’t going to be out on this particular day I photographed 6664 arriving with 56139 0915 Ooty – Coonoor and hoped it would do 56143 1235 Coonoor – Ooty the following afternoon; as the loco on shed usually did. When I got back to my compartment, where my big bag had been left locked to the seats, underneath them, there were only 4 people left in it and the journey up to Ooty was a pleasurable one with less people in the compartment. Quite a lot of people in the coach looked to be flagging after the early start and were dozing for most of the journey towards Ooty. The scenery is nowhere near as good as that lower down the hills but the line’s summit at 7000ft is at Lovedale, 4km from Ooty. I have to say, I was glad to get to Ooty when I arrived as it is a long journey from Mettupalayam, after an early start, with not much on offer food and facility wise on the way up; I was certainly looking forward to a decent meal by this point.

There is a fill-in move available if you so wish, which is to do 56142 1215 Ooty – Coonoor to Ketti for 56143 1235 Coonoor – Ooty back but I opted to get checked into my hotel and dump the big bag; before finding some food. An auto to the Hotel Khems cost me RS100 and took about 10 minutes via the crappy one-way system that operates through Ooty; which makes the journey to the hotel longer than the more direct one back.

The Hotel Khems is up a steep side street, tucked back off the main road, and not by the station as their location on the map would have you believe. Having been caught out with this behavior once in India I make sure I check Google maps now to confirm hotel locations. The staff at the front desk were very welcoming and I was checked in pretty quickly. The Khems chain is billed as a budget chain but the place is quite nice and my room was spacious, with a decent sized comfy bed. Bottled water was supplied but there were no toiletries in the bathroom; which had pigeons lofting in the ceiling! The curtains, while they drew, might as well not have been up as they were that lightly coloured that they only acted as a screen against people seeing in. Still, I got what I paid for and it was ok for the one night and at least had free WiFi. Unfortunately, the restaurant wasn’t open, so after dumping my bags, I headed straight back to the station, in an auto I found on the main road that cost RS70. It took me no time to find somewhere to eat and I’d highly recommend the Hotel Welcome for a good meal. It’s about 150m up a side road from the bottom of the station approach ramp. They couldn’t apologize enough for my egg biriyani taking a while to cook. The reason it had done is because the hard-boiled eggs had been done fresh and were piping hot, so there was no complaining from me at all; and the massive dish cost about £1!

At Ooty station I’d been surprised to find X Class steam loco 37384 stabled in the non-used platform. It had only recently been moved up from Coonoor, having been retired from service. Entry to its cab had been restricted by wire mesh and I guess it was a good thing it being on display, which was better than it being scrapped of course. It had been the oldest X Class left in service until recently. What I didn’t realise as I left Ooty is that it wouldn’t be there when I got back from Coonoor that evening!

It was no surprise when GOC YDM4 6664 arrived into Ooty with 56143 1235 Coonoor – Ooty, which then formed 56137 1400 Ooty – Mettupalayam. On which I had a reservation in FS1 (first class) to Coonoor. Queuing for the unreserved at Ooty is managed well and a single line queue is enforced by the RPF on duty, which is behind the piece of rope tied down the platform length. It looked quite busy and was wedged before I even made it to the back of the train to check on the TTE’s list that my name was on it. While peering over his shoulder I noticed my name against seat No.5 but then a Japanese girl turned up with a ticket displayed on her mobile phone. I could see it was shown as WL13 but she was insistent she had an allocated seat. The TTE tried to explain to her that she hadn’t been confirmed and she should get a seat in the unreserved coaches quickly; but she was adamant her name was on the list and pointed to my name. when I explained to her that it was my reservation she was pointing to, she said it couldn’t have been as her first name, which I now can’t remember, began with a J. I showed her my ticket, with my name on it and the realisation sank in. She was last seen scurrying down the platform to attempt to find a seat elsewhere. As it turned out 6 people in my compartment for 8 hadn’t turned up and there was only me in it on departure from Ooty! There was couple of tourists in the next compartment who’d been telling me they hadn’t been able to book tickets through to Mettupalayam as the train had been fully booked; even in 2nd unreserved, which has a limit of sale on the Nilgiri Mountain Railway for safety reasons. I told them that people hadn’t turned up and that they should speak to the TTE at Coonoor to try and blag their way onto the train if they didn’t turn up there either; to which they seemed very grateful.

It was a nice afternoon run down to Coonoor and at Ketti we crossed YDM4 6724 with a single coach, heading towards Ooty. At Coonoor I was surprised to see X Class 37399 waiting on shed to work 56137 forward to Mettupalayam; it’s usually a different steam loco in either direction. The loco change at Coonoor wasn’t done that quickly, which allowed me some time to get outside the station and get some different photos of the loco changes, involving plinthed X Class 37390 in the station car park. Once the shunts had taken place and 37399 had been bolted on for the journey to Mettupalayam I had a wonder onto the shed to see what was going off.

The list of serviceable X Class steam locos had been updated since my last visit and now only had 6 on it; 37391, 392, 396, 397, 398 & 399. Of those, 37392 & 37396 were at GOC on POH and it seemed, with 37399 going back to Mettupalayam, that the rest were undergoing maintenance at ONR as they were all in the shed not looking like they were going anywhere too soon. Curious to find out the score with 6706, which was still stabled by the shed, I went into the SSE’s office and recognized him straight away; and he recognized me from my previous trip also. He was more than happy to engage me in conversation, despite looking busy, and my worst fear was confirmed moments later when he told me that 6706 wouldn’t be working trains the following day as it had wheel problems and was going to GOC on Monday for attention to them. He did however then confirm that YDM4 6681 would replace it; this had recently been transferred from IZN to GOC after a mass surplus of locos became available there after various closures. Having got the gen I wanted, but didn’t want to hear of course, I wondered round the shed, unchallenged. 6706 looked to me to have thin wheels and that was probably why it was being sent back to GOC.

I didn’t have a reservation for the run up to Ooty on 56138 1630 Coonoor – Ooty but had no problem getting a seat in the unreserved next to YDM4 6664. It was full on departure, with every seat taken, but I had one and wasn’t bothered. 6664 put in a good performance as it pushed its train up to the summit at Lovedale and both it and 6724 had sounded very good during the day. 6724 was waiting at Aravankadu to cross 56138 and I didn’t notice straight away that it had both the coach it had gone up to Ooty with earlier and coupled behind that X Class 37384. Quite why they’d decided to move it back from Ooty I don’t know and never found out either.

Back at the Hotel Khems that evening it sounded like a massive group of youths had checked in as there was a right racket going off in the corridor as they all got into their rooms. I had to ask one guy to close his room door at one point as his TV could be heard loud and clear in mine. While I was civilized about it and they guy I asked quite apologetic some wanker stood in the corridor glaring at me, while stood in what I can only describe as an aggressive stance. Needless to say, when I challenged his glaring in my aggressive Yorkshire stance he had no response and disappeared back into his room. Thankfully the racket soon died down and after they’d all gone down to use the restaurant it went quiet again. I’d attempted to use the restaurant myself but despite the menu in the room saying it opened at 1900, it actually didn’t until 1930; yet I was told I could order room service and it was delivered to my room within 10 minutes. It was a shame it wasn’t hot, and was stone cold by the time I’d finished it, as it was quite tasty.

As I’d had quite an early finish I spent the evening utilizing the free WiFi and attempting to book train tickets for my upcoming Ukraine trip in April; which turned into a re-plan of it thanks to some rather bizarre timetabling that had resulted in trains originally being booked to depart origin on odd days of the month, being moved to even days after the March timetable change! There was nothing like re-planning one trip while I was on another; which wasn’t necessarily a first for me. When I went to bed I thought I had it all in hand but the morning after saw to it that I hadn’t!



Photos from Friday 3rd March 2017


Saturday 4th March 2017 (Heading back down the Nilgiri Mountain Railway)

Once I was awake I found it hard to get back to sleep once the light started bleeding through the useless curtains so I got up and picked up where I left off the previous night and set about booking some more train tickets in the Ukraine; which only go on sale so many days before the train’s departure. Being half asleep and not paying as much attention as I should have been didn’t do me any favours when I managed to book the tickets I wanted but for the day before I bloody wanted them! That mistake, while it could have been quite costly, ended up being a god-send eventually and shaped the rest of the trip nicely after I discovered a few other timetabling issues along the way. Still, my error that morning had me packing away the computer in disgust and I was ready for breakfast a few minutes before the restaurant opened at 0730; according to the menu in the room. When I got down to reception though I was told breakfast wasn’t served until 0830. When I pointed out to the staff that this was twice that I’d now attempted to use the restaurant, based on the times advertised on their menu’s in the rooms, and hadn’t been able to as the advertised times were wrong, it just went straight over their head as if I was talking to someone behind them; and they had no interest at all.

I rapidly lost interest as well and asked the hotel to get me an auto to take me back to the station. In the end one of the staff took me in their car as he was going to town to get some supplies anyway. I still had to pay the going rate of RS100 for the journey though. The Hotel Welcome was more than welcoming as I plonked my arse down and ordered an omelette with toast and an aloo paratha for breakfast, both of which were as fresh as they come and very nice. The staff there were very friendly too and there was a constant stream of locals using the place so it must be well liked. I was suitably impressed anyway; and would be back for lunch later.

I ended up at the station that early that the gate was closed and there wasn’t any access to the station platform. I effed it through the refreshment room and asked the station master how I could get my bag into the cloak room. He told me to nook it in at the ticket office, so I did. My advice here would be not to attempt to get your bags into the cloak room immediately before a train departure as the ticket office is responsible for issuing the cloak room ticket and opening the clock room to allow you to deposit your bags; which they can’t do when there’s a big queue of course. The guy in the ticket office was very helpful though and sorted me out straight away; while confirming to another couple that there were no seats left in any of the reserved classes to Coonoor.

Once my bag was deposited in the cloak room, which is on the station at the end of the buildings near the toilets, I ended up chewing the cud with the couple who’d been at the ticket office while I’d been sorting my bag out. We sat at the front of the unreserved queue, which we formed, and watched the mad rush when the RPF turned up and made everyone queue behind the rope. Those that had chosen to sit on the seats at the wrong side of the rope were soon feeling the error of their ways as they were ushered towards the rear of the queue. When YDM4 6664 arrived with 56141 0745 Coonoor – Ooty there was a bit of a bustling feeling about the platform but the RPF did well in keeping order; probably due to the big sticks they have!? Once the train had emptied boarding of the unreserved started straight away and as we were first on we had the pick of the seats. The coach behind 6664 was well loaded when the little YDM4 drew out with 56139 0915 Ooty – Coonoor.

The run down to Coonoor was nothing to write home about, especially as its all downhill from Lovedale, and surprisingly we were into Coonoor before 56136 0710 Mettupalayam – Ooty had arrived. 6724 was sat on shed with the coach to attach to 56136 when it arrived and 6706 was now sat beneath the water tower as though poised to work the following day’s afternoon turn. I suspected that this was due to the fact that X Class 37384 had been dumped by the side of the shed and it had needed to be moved to allow it to do so; but I went to check with the SSE anyway, after photographing X Class 37399 arriving with 56136.

There was certainly no rush to get 6724 shunted onto the train once 37399 was off the train and I got the impression that there might have been something wrong with it when 6706 was started up. Unfortunately for me 6706 was only being started up to do some shunting on shed, so the SSE told me, much to my disappointment. After he told me I was YDM4 mad he beckoned me up to the cab of 6706 and told me to enjoy a quick ride. My only concern with that was that I needed to make sure I was on 56136 back to Ooty to get my bag from the cloak room. He told me not to worry as 6706 shunted down the shed and it was used to move two of the steam locos onto different roads in the shed. I kept an eye on 6724 the whole while and made sure I got off the loco and went over to the train once it had shunted off shed.

I did have a reservation for 56136 from Coonoor to Ooty but is had been in 2S (2nd reserved) and WL28 when issued. I’d checked it before leaving the Hotel Khems and after charting I’d managed to make it WL1! The TTE milling about had been the same one I’d seen the previous afternoon at Ooty and he soon found me a seat in 2S, in a compartment that only had 5 people in on departure from Coonoor. One of the occupants of which told me he’d worked in a call centre in Bangalore for Admiral Insurance. Strangely, his first question was to ask if it was true that people in different areas of the UK sometimes struggled to understand each other. I explained the issues with localised accents in the UK and how they could be very different only 15 miles apart; especially in South Yorkshire, where I live. We ended up discussing the issues that people from the UK had with UK business’ basing their call centres in India and he explained to me that during training the staff are made to watch videos and listen to regular calls involving English people engaging in everyday conversation. This is to get them used to the accepts and ways of pronouncing words in the English language. He personally found it hard to deal with people from Scotland and Wales as their accents were the hardest to understand. It was an interesting conversation to have and while only a young lad, he’d been up the Nilgiri Mountain Railway 4 times himself and enjoyed the trip. The conversation certainly passed the time along the way.

Upon arrival into Ooty I was straight to the Hotel Welcome, where the staff weren’t surprised to see me. They served up a cracking dish of veg noodles and I thanked them profusely for providing me with good food during my time in Ooty. Back at the station I collected my bag from the cloak room, had a few coffees and pondered what would now be the start of my journey home to the UK, via Bangalore. I only had the following day to go, before flying home, and nothing at all had gone amiss on the trip; it had been a breeze.

Thankfully my reservation for 56137 1400 Ooty – Mettupalayam had been allocated right from being issued and there was no messing about with the wait list. When YDM4 6664 arrived with the set to form 56137 I was straight into my compartment in FS1 (first class) and was pleasantly surprised when we departed Ooty with just four of us in it. There was a Chinese woman, who spent most of the journey asleep, and an elderly couple who were heading down to Mettupalayam on the train and being picked up there by their driver, who would take them on to Coimbatore. It was a nice relaxing journey and the couple were good company. YDM4 6664 gave way to X Class steam loco 37399 at Coonoor and 6724 was in the adjacent platform with stock when we headed out of the station and down the hill towards Mettupalayam.

The highlight of the downhill journey to Mettupalayam is the interaction with the monkeys at Hillgrove during the refreshment stop. The moment the train rounded the corner towards the station I could see them rushing from the trees to the platform in readiness to scrounge food from people on the train. During the 15 minute stop the monkeys basically stuffed their face with anything they were given and there was a clear hierarchy amongst them. By the time the train departed every monkey had cheeks bulging with whatever they’d stuffed in. there was even a mother nursing a very young monkey and none of them were afraid to just mingle in on the platform. When I got back onto the train I was told that some people in the coach had been robbed of their food after monkeys had crept in through the windows on the off-side of the train and done away with whatever they could get their hands on.

Going back down to Mettupalayam there isn’t the need to stop everywhere for water as the loco isn’t working as hard and unfortunately there is no stop at Adderley on the way back; which has excellent views over the hills of a late afternoon. From Kallar the little steam loco works hard as it rushes along the home stretch and everyone welcomes the train back into Mettupalayam as they had done when it had departed that morning; with waving arms.

After arrival into Mettupalayam I noticed a guy walking down the train pointing a temperature reader at the axles on the stock. After he’d done his rounds the stock was shunted by 37399, and the following day’s set prepared, before it shunted onto shed for servicing. During the shunting, I’d noticed a GOC liveried loco down in the carriage sidings and had initially thought it had been a WDS6 but soon realised that whatever it was, was on a BG flat wagon. Inspection revealed GOC YDM4 6681, with a plate on it confirming it had been overhauled at GOC in December 2016. It looked pristine and would no doubt be soon pressed into service. Thankfully it hadn’t been too dark by the time I noticed it and nobody challenged me as I walked round the carriage sidings snapping away.

The wait at Mettupalayam for 12672 1945 Mettupalayam – Chennai Central is over 2 hours and I was ready for clambering on board, even when RPM WAP7 30410 arrived with 56144 1755 Coimbatore – Mettupalayam passenger. Unfortunately, it took an age to shunt the stock and get the set into the station, which only happened about 15 minutes before departure. On board, I got talking to a guy who recognised me from my trip to Mettupalayam the previous morning. He was from Mettupalayam and had a farm there but had to spend a lot of his time in Chennai on other business. Our conversation to Coimbatore passed the time and before I knew it I was in the restaurant of the Park Inn Hotel, stuffing my face with a very good chilli chicken.


Photos from Saturday 4th March 2017

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